Preparing To Cross The South Pacific

As our regular readers know, Duet will be crossing the South Pacific this year. The journey, which begins in Mexico, in mid March, covers almost 7,000 miles. We will do it in two 3 month segments, with a 3 month break in the middle. We are fortunate that we will be traveling with another Nordhavn, a 60 named Daybreak. We are on similar schedules, so we should see them frequently throughout our journey. It will be an incredible adventure, as well as a considerable challenge.

But first, we had to get the boat, and ourselves, ready. We also had to find someone to join us on the first long ocean crossing, from Mexico to the Marquesas. While we have always run this Duet, and her predecessor, with only the two of us aboard, the almost 3,000 mile 18 day journey to the Marquesas is just too far. For us, the risk of one of us being ill or injured is just too high to take. We are private people and are used to relying entirely on each other. Making the decision to take someone wasn’t easy, but we came to terms with it. So we started looking around for a crew member.

Finding someone is harder than it sounds. Surely there must be lots of folks who would like to go? There are, but there are also several criteria which need to be met.

Most importantly, we have to be comfortable with them, and they with us. We all have to feel that we can get along in a small, moving, confining, potentially uncomfortable and definitely inescapable environment for a long period of time. We talked to a lot of people about having crew aboard. Compatibility was most often cited as the key to success.

We also needed to be sure that they will follow Ron’s directions. For example, if he expects the watch stander to summon him if another vessel is going to come closer to us than two miles, we need to be sure they will do as he instructs and not try to deal with the situation themselves. Trust is critical.

From the crew’s perspective, they need to trust Ron’s judgement. He listens to input, but, in the end, everyone will do what he decides. Boats are not a democracy. This took Nancy sometime to learn, but even she has figured it out.

Prospective crew also need to be certain that Duet can safely make the journey. We want to be sure that they learn everything they need to know about how we have prepared Duet and what she is capable of, before making a decision.

Finally, they have to be available, which means they have to find 5-6 weeks in their schedule to do the journey. We actively try to avoid schedules, they are the most dangerous thing aboard a cruising vessel. That said, we weighed the risks of two of us aboard, versus the most flexible schedule we could come up with and decided the schedule was necessary.

So we worked our way through friends, professional crew, and friends of friends. We even considered lists, like PAE’s crew available list. In the end, we went with a friend, a Nordhavn Dreamer whom we met in Portland several years ago. We know Sean and his family, not extremely well, but well enough to know that his approach to life fits relatively well with our own. He brings some great skills to the table, he is a fireman, an emergency medical technician, a rescue diver, maintains and crews his own boat and doesn’t get seasick. Most importantly, he has an understanding wife, Celia, who is willing to manage their young family while he is gone.

Sean successfully applied for 5 plus weeks of vacation, which is about all he gets in a year, to join us on the first leg of this journey. Now we have to go, since Sean got the time off. And, as Ron has pointed out more than once, we are spending money on parts for this trip, so we are going no matter what.

Preparation for the journey falls into several categories. First, of course, is what does Duet need to make the trip safely and comfortably? We have already traveled over 7,000 miles aboard her, a good part of it in the Pacific ocean along the west coast of America, which could be considered relatively meaningful cruising. She’s had a big refit since we bought her. Ron has fixed everything found on the buyer’s survey and then some. She just passed an insurance survey with flying colors. What else could she possibly need?

To understand the answer to that question, you need to put yourself in Ron’s shoes, or the shoes of any Captain who has ever taken a crew on an ocean journey. Someone once told us this is called “the captain’s burden” and they were right. Ron is used to pressure in his day job as an anesthesiologist. Taking Duet across an ocean, where she will be more than 1,000 miles from land and help, is different. He hasn’t trained for it, he’s never done it and Nancy is on board.

Ron spent quite a bit of time thinking about what he wanted to make sure Duet had before we left. He spent a lot of time talking to Nancy, as well as other people, and did a lot of reading. His final list, in no particular order, included:

  • Installing monitoring gear to determine how much fuel the main engine is burning

  • Rebuilding or replacing the main transmission

  • Servicing the Naiad stabilizers

  • Installing a Murphy gauge on the main engine coolant tank as an early warning, before overheating, of coolant loss

  • Designing and installing equipment to interface Duet’s 120/240V 60hz electrical system with the 230V 50hz system used in NewZealand and Australia

  • Rebuilding, replacing or having spares for every pump aboard

  • Replacing the stainless steel fasteners on the tiller arm linkages with grade 8 steel fasteners. This is the result of hearing about several instances where the original stainless fasteners broke.

  • Developing and acquiring an enormous list of spare parts for all equipment

  • Acquiring various sundry items, including:

    • a “micro” dingy

    • a fuel bladder for additional fuel storage

    • tools for various disasters that might occur

  • Installing plumbing so we can transfer fuel directly from the fuel bladder to Duet’s integral fuel tanks

  • Conducting a more detailed review of Duet’s primary systems than he had yet undertaken, which included things like evaluating the injection elbow on the main engine exhaust discussed in the previous blog

Last but not least, both he and Nancy need the ability to come to terms with the fact that there will be things we can’t just can’t anticipate. The trick is to remember that we have dealt with the unexpected before and lived to tell about it.

Nancy also had quite a bit to do. Nancy worries about things like paperwork, food, toilet paper and the many other items that keep Duet going safely and comfortably from one destination to another. She takes care of our itinerary, our immigration and boat clearance into and out of every country we visit, the different types of money we carry, where we and/or Duet stays, the charts we use, the courtesy flags we fly, Duet’s satellite communication systems, our airline reservations, the safety gear, the software our computers run, and everything else Ron isn’t worrying about. She knows what we are going to eat, and often even when we are going to eat it. Sometimes we have overlapping worries, which can be a good thing, as we challenge each other over what should be done. This is the biggest trip we have ever undertaken, and we know we won’t get it 100% right. That said, we are doing our best to come pretty close.

Several of the bigger projects for this trip, namely the transmission replacement and the Naiad service, were done at Shelter Island Boatyard and are described in that blog. The rest were done either during the summer of 2016 (mostly parts ordering) and before and after our boatyard visit, including during most of our recent trip south to Mexico and our stay there. So we didn’t do much actual “cruising” in the fall and winter of 2016, although we did manage to travel some 1,000 miles while ticking off lists, installing gear, talking through possible disaster scenarios, and the like.

We tried to load most of the parts and dry provisions in the United States before we left. It is just easier to get things, particularly some of the more esoteric parts Ron wanted, there than in Mexico. We can obviously get most of our provisions in Mexico, so Nancy sorted out her lists using several criteria.

The first assumption she made was people eat everywhere, so, as far as “food” went, she would load what we needed in each major place and grab what she could, when she could, in smaller towns. The information on what is available in the more remote areas of French Polynesia is somewhat sketchy, so she is hoping that her crew will forgive her if they are forced to eat lots of oatmeal, raisins, reconstituted mashed potatoes and peanut butter for short periods between provisioning ports.

The second rule Nancy applied was whether something was brand dependent, like the Stanadyne fuel conditioner we use to treat our diesel fuel, or we could use whatever the locals use, like milk. For brand dependent items, she then tried to determine whether a particular brand, like Delo 400 oil, could be purchased along the way or whether we would have to bring all we needed (or could fit, which was an entirely different issue) until New Zealand.

Parts arriving and being inventoried at home

Stanadyne arrives in San Diego

Once we reach New Zealand, we will just have to find it or adapt to something else, as there is no way even Nancy can fit several years worth of whatever it is into the boat. The 50 is bigger than the 46, but not that much bigger. It is also possible to carry some items, like personal medications, on airplane flights back and forth from home or have crew bring them. This is a nonstarter with something like Stanadyne, of which we need literally gallons. Hence, Nancy’s standard provisioning spreadsheets got more complex, with new columns delineating brand or no brand requirement, availability and the “will it go on the airplane?” question.

She also prepared several calculations for Ron, including how much fuel we would be expected to burn (approximately 7,500 gallons) so that we could calculate how much Stanadyne we needed (32 quart bottles, each of which treats 240 gallons of diesel fuel). These numbers are based on starting in San Diego, making this approximately a 10,000 mile journey, by the time we cruise the Sea of Cortez, etc.

These calculations also yielded expected main engine and generator hours (1,500 each), thereby allowing us to figure out how much oil we needed (too much) as well as coolant, transmission oil, hydraulic fluid, fuel filters, oil filters, impellers, etc. We want to carry enough for the required changes until we reach somewhere we can buy it, plus at least one extra fluid change or filter replacement in case of a failure along the way. This is a lot of fluid, never mind things in boxes from Hatton Marine.

Main engine coolant aboard Goldberg transport

Yet another load of gear 

After you put it in the car, you take it out of the car and put it in the boat

Stuff also arrives via UPS or Fedex but it still has to get onto and into the boat

There are exceptions to this rule, naturally. For example, we carry an enormous number of Racor fuel filters. If we pick up bad fuel somewhere along the way we will be very glad we have these. Otherwise, we shall use them up eventually. Fortunately, Papeete, Tahiti, is a big city and we can get almost anything we need there, so that made life a little easier.

Nancy also started our paperwork. We will be part of the Pacific Puddle Jump, which is a loosely defined “rally” of boats which will cross to French Polynesia. 2017 is the 22nd year of the rally, which is sponsored by Latitude 38 Magazine. There are a number of events along the way, as well as informal radio nets, etc. The organizers also maintain a database of registration and safety information about each registered participant, which is a great benefit to search and rescue organizations in the event of an emergency.

The rally is a great source of information, as is the Pacific Puddle Jump Yahoo Group. Nancy monitors all these sources and has gathered a lot of useful information about cruising in the South Pacific. There are few guides available, so we are relying on the generosity of those who have gone before us. Examples include the Compendiums on various areas prepared by the crew of Jacaranda, which includes many passage reports, weather information, etc.

We have retained Tahiti Crew to help us navigate officialdom in French Polynesia. Tahiti Crew supports the Puddle Jump and Jerome on Daybreak recommended them highly. They have been very responsive and easy to work with. French Polynesian paperwork is complex and the requirements are strict. Having an experienced local company on Duet’s team makes the whole process much easier. We will be using agents in other countries as well, in our opinion they are well worth their fees, even if only to get duty free fuel.

Nancy is also working with Tahiti Crew to make sure that diesel is there when we need it. The vast majority of recreational vessels which do this trip are sailboats, most of which take on less than 10% of the fuel we need, so our fueling requirements are significantly greater than the local stations are accustomed to. Right now, the Pacific Puddle Jump participants list of 135 boats includes only 3 powerboats, all Nordhavns.

In addition to paperwork, we needed some immunizations, as well as an even more expanded medical kit. We found the Seaside Marine International Drug Company to be well organized and helpful in putting together a larger med kit than we had previously carried. Sean also gave us some good ideas, including the list of drugs and gear they carry on the firetrucks.

Nancy even went to CPR training again

While Nancy was working through lists, Ron was deciding on new equipment. The largest project was figuring out how to interface Duet’s US 120/240V 60hz electrical system to the 230V 50hz systems found in New Zealand, Australia and other countries. This is a complex problem, and there are several dimensions to it. First, most electrical motors, especially the newer ones, do better on one frequency, namely 50hz or 60hz. 50Hz motors will burn out over time if you feed them 60hz, and visa versa. So Ron had to figure out how to isolate Duet’s electrical motors, like her air conditioning and her refrigeration, from the frequency difference.

He also had to figure out how to deliver 120V, as the dock power in New Zealand, for example, provides 230V. Duet is, mostly, a 120V boat. This includes her air conditioning, which is an after market installation. 240V, for her water maker and washer and dryer, is created by combing two 120V legs.

Ron, after much thought and evaluation of various solutions, such as dockside transformers, isolation transformers, etc., decided to go with a simple solution, namely to deliver all the power Duet needs, or most of it anyway, via her inverter. The inverter purifies the power so it can be used by all of Duet’s equipment without damage. The inverter, in turn, would be fed by the batteries, which are charged by a battery charger, which can accept power at any voltage and frequency.

Some modeling clearly showed that Duet’s current single 3KW inverter/charger and stand alone 100 amp universal battery charger wouldn’t be able to deliver enough juice to keep Nancy happy, so Ron doubled those up, adding another 3KW inverter/charger and an additional 100 amp stand alone charger. For those who follow the Nordhavn 52, Dirona, this is similar to what James did, on a smaller scale.

Ron also did some field testing and determined that a single 3KW inverter/charger can support one air conditioning unit, including the start up load. So, with two 3KW units running in parallel, we should be able to run the salon and the pilothouse air conditioning, for example. Two 100 amp chargers can keep up with this load, although they may fall slightly behind the total boat requirements at any point in time. This is particularly true if the refrigeration is running a lot in a hot climate, so Ron expects some battery drawdown during waking hours, if two A/Cs are on. This deficit will be made up at night, when only the master stateroom A/C is on.

A new inverter/charger, 12V stand alone battery charger, 24V stand alone battery charger and various parts, waiting at home

If we have guests, and they need A/C too, we may need to run the generator. We will also need to run the generator to do laundry or make water when in a marina. Fortunately, the large salt water pump which provides cooling water to the A/C units, can run on any sort of power, so the inverters wouldn’t need to support it. It’s a big power consumer, so this made things considerably easier.

Ron wanted this system to be easy to manage. He also knew that the boat’s electrical system would be inspected at the first marina we reach in New Zealand, which has strict rules about what kind of boat electrical systems can be plugged into their electrical supply. So, in addition to adding another inverter/charger and another stand alone charger, he will be adding a shore power plug at the stern, which will feed the chargers and the A/C saltwater pump from the power pedestal.

There will also be some switching to ensure that this power is only going to the chargers and the salt water A/C pump. This system is still being installed, so we will cover what has already been done in this blog and it’s completion in the next. Hopefully, Ron will get it all done before we actually arrive in New Zealand.

A lot of prep work for this project was done over the summer at home

Making a switch box

Fitting the switch inside

Completed boxes. The big one will be installed in the pilothouse to control whether the inverters carry a limited standard loadset or an expanded load set. The expanded loadset is used when we are on 230V/50hz and includes things like the A/C and hot water, which are normally not powered by the inverters.

The smaller switch will be installed in the laz to control whether the saltwater A/C pump gets its power from the 120v/60hz or 230V/50Z system.

This is the smaller rotary switch. The slots on the side are where the wiring goes, the switch manually establishes an electrical connection as it is turned.

Cutting holes in the bottom of a junction box so that the wiring can enter

Installing a terminal block inside the box. The block is protected by the gasketed junction box and is used to connect wiring.

This box will control which of the two chargers is running

As part of the electrical project, Ron also fixed a number of other electrical issues that have been on his list for some time. First, Duet’s inverter bypass switch has never worked, so it needed to be fixed. Second, Ron has established that several breakers shown on Duet’s as built electrical diagrams were never installed. The two of most concern were the breakers for the generator and the incoming shore power. He will install those too. As of the publication of this blog, the inverter bypass switch is in business and the generator has its own breaker. Parts for the shore power breaker are on board but not yet installed.

Wiring the inverter bypass

New inverter bypass switch, which utilizes two double pole circuit breakers with a sliding bar interlock.

Installing the circuit breaker for the generator

New cover for the battery switches

Ron also installed a larger 24V charger, to support Duet’s big 24V engine room cooling fans. While the main engine is runnng, the alternator keeps the fans running. Once the main is off, however, the fans rapidly drain the small 24V battery bank. Ron likes to cool the engine room down after we travel and it is also more comfortable for him to work in there if it is cool. Now, when we are plugged in, or the generator is on, the new 24V charger keeps the fans humming along

As this blog is published, the larger electrical work, namely installing an additional inverter/charger and stand alone charger, with the requisite switching and breakers to handle foreign power, is about half done. The rest will get done somewhere along the way.

Begining to install breakers and junction boxes

Wiring behind the new shore power inlet, which will bring 230V/50hz power aboard

Drilling for the new shore power plug

Breaker box which isolates the dedicated auxillary chargers from conventional ship’s power of 120V/60hz and allows them to be powered by the dedicated foriegn shore power inlet on the transom designed to accept to 230V/50hz. They are a pair of double pole circuit breakers that are joined with a sliding interlock, so that only one source of power can be on at any one time. 

Drilling holes in the stern to mount the two battery chargers on the aft wall of the lazarette

Ron tries to keep the documentation updated as he goes along. Here he updates the handwritten version, he will later annotate his electronic copy

The second largest project was how to measure how much fuel Duet’s main engine is burning. While we have, in the past, used the main engine RPM curves as a rough approximation of burn rate, consultation with Bob Senter, and others, made it clear that this method yields vague results at best, so it would not be acceptable for a journey of this magnitude.

Newer electronic diesels measure fuel consumption as part of their regular reporting procedures, but Duet’s older motor has no way to communicate that information to us. After some research, Ron decided to install a set of Maretron fuel flow measuring units, hooked up to a Maretron network backbone and our GPS. This, via a small screen in the pilothouse, gives us gallons burned per hour, total gallons burned, and, most importantly, nautical miles per gallon (NMPG). NMPG drives all our range calculations. We will discuss these calculations in more detail later in this blog.

The Maretron gear is a networked N2K monitoring system, so, rather than having a lot of different screens and their respective wires running from the engine room to the pilothouse, there is one network cable which travels throughout the boat, hence the name backbone. Individual sensors are plugged into the cable along the way.

The cable then carries all the information from all the sensors to a single PC in the pilothouse, which can display, track, alarm and store all the information it receives. This dramatically simplifies the pilothouse layout. Right now Duet has at least half a dozen small screens that provide one or two bits of monitoring information each. With the Maretron we could have one screen that covers everything we need to know, presented in a manner that we are comfortable with.

Duet’s pilothouse is shown below. Many of the small screens display monitoring information

Making the investment in the Maretron system now, rather than just adding another stand alone fuel monitoring system, allows us to add other monitoring instruments in the future. Maretron makes instruments which can monitor almost anything, from exhaust temperature to windspeed. Duet’s monitoring gear is beginning to show signs of age. Last time our windspeed indicator was repaired, for example, Alcom told us that they had no more spare parts for it. So putting the network in was an investment in the future, when we start replacing other gear.

Right now, however, all we need to know is what kind of mileage we are getting. So we kept it simple, installing only the smallest of Maretron’s available monitoring screens. It is shoehorned into the pilothouse dash. Eventually, when we replace the rest of the monitoring gear, it will move to a more remote location, such as the master stateroom, and be replaced by a PC running the full suite of monitoring software.

The sensors on the other end of this set up are relatively simple, they consist of little rotors plumbed into a fuel hose. The rotors spin as the fuel passes through. Magnets on the rotors pass a sensor, which detects how fast they are moving, and can thereby determine how much fuel is traveling through the hose. There are two sensors, one measures how much fuel is traveling to the engine and the other measures how much is coming back. The difference is the fuel burned.

Ron made a backing plate to hold the sensors and put together the hoses to splice them into the fuel system. While he’s not entirely happy with having this kind of interruption in the primary fuel delivery system, in case it leaks, plumbing in valving was too complex, so he’s carrying repair hoses and fittings in case the worst happens.

The sensors are the round units on the backing pate. The fuel hoses will be attached where the blue tape is, while the cable carries the information to the management unit which transfers it to the backbone.

Hoses and field crimpable fittings

Sensors installed under the floor beneath the Racors

The only problem we had with the Maretron was the first cable we got to hook up the screen in the pilothouse was defective. That took a considerable amount of time to figure out. After some advice from Peter on N60 Tanglewood, Ron acquired network testing software, which enabled him to pinpoint the problem. Once the cable was replaced, the system worked like a champ. For our technical readers, it is talking to the GPS units via a N2K to NMEA 0183 converter, since it is the only N2K unit on the boat.

Here is the pilothouse screen working but not quite

Troubleshooting software in action

Trying to repair the cable, but not succeeding

Finally, it works! This picture was actually taken some months later, as the astute reader can tell by looking at the trip volume of gallons burned in the lower right corner. The upper left corner is Duet’s speed, to it’s right is the gallons burned per hour, and, on the lower left, is the key number, namely Nautical Miles Per Gallon. 

Ron also worked on the fuel bladder and boat range issue over the summer. Duet is capable of making the long crossing to the Marquesas on her own tanks, but the margin would be tighter than we might like. During such a crossing, it is possible to encounter a counter current, which burns extra fuel, or detour around weather. Adding a few hundred gallons of fuel seemed worth it to us, both to reduce the risk of running out of fuel or losing flexibility at a critical time. The ability to carry extra fuel also enables us to travel faster if we want to make a shorter crossing more quickly, which can be handy in certain situations.

The first question was how much extra fuel? The simple answer was as much as we can fit. But fit where? Further review of other Nordhavns which have carried bladders, including N52 Dirona and N46 Egret, was useful. Duet, however, is a wet exhaust, which means her exhaust exits at the waterline. So we have another issue, namely how far can we submerge the exhaust without causing too much exhaust back pressure on the main engine? Exhaust back pressure is caused when the engine exhaust can’t force it’s way out of the exhaust pipe. Most Nordhavns are dry exhausts, where the exhaust comes out above the deck, so they aren’t impacted by how far underwater the boat has submerged.

The back pressure question has two dimensions. First, how much back pressure is too much? If we put Duet’s exhaust completely underwater, for example, could the exhaust still flow out at a reasonable rate? Some boat exhausts run completely underwater. Duet would also be moving mainly forwards, not backing down hard, which reduces the risk of flooding the engine.

Second, how far will the exhaust submerge with a given amount of fuel aboard? We started with the fuel question first, namely how much and, as importantly, where, would the extra fuel go? Dirona and Egret carry fuel in bladders in both their cockpits and their Portuguese bridges. The bridge is a good place, it is relatively central, both port and starboard and fore and aft, although on a 50 the bridge is slightly forward of the boat’s fore aft fulcrum. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a 50 that had carried fuel in a bladder, so we were on our own there.

Ron did a lot of thinking, measuring, calculating and getting bids on various bladders to fit various places. After much thought and discussion, we decided to go with a single 300 gallon bladder in the cockpit. This increases our fuel capacity by 20% and our range by the same, while keeping the costs within reason. We were able to use an off the shelf bladder, rather than a custom one. As we now knew where the fuel was going and how much it would weigh, the only remaining question was whether it would submerge Duet’s stern to the point where we were putting too much back pressure on the main engine exhaust.

This question was tricky to answer. Nordhavn 50s are heavy boats, Duet tipped the scales at Shelter Island Boatyard at 37 tons, at less than half load. Full of fuel, water, beer, etc. she weighs closer to 42 tons, or 84,000 pounds. Adding the 2,400 pound weight of 300 gallons of diesel to this seems pretty minor. The key, though, is where you put that weight. In our case, we wanted to put it at the back of the boat, thereby putting the maximum amount of weight right where we didn’t need it, namely pushing the stern down and the exhaust under water.

But, after some calculating and some careful measuring when we filled Duet’s stern fuel tanks, Ron figured that the stern would sink about 3 inches with the full fuel bladder positioned in the cockpit. If the stern sank 3 inches, the main engine exhaust would be about ¾ of the way underwater, at the maximum. We could adjust this a bit by positioning the bladder as far to starboard as we could (Duet sits port down with all her tanks full and the exhaust is on the port side) and we could use her 4 water tanks and the holding tank as ballast tanks.

We tested the ballast tank idea by emptying and filling various tanks. We found that we could impact her trim fore and aft and port and starboard by about ½ to 1 inch, depending which tanks we filled or emptied. To have the maximum impact on the exhaust, namely putting the least weight on it, we will travel with the port saddle water tank and the aft water tank empty. We will fill the holding tank, the starboard saddle and forward water tanks.


More measuring

Consultation with Bob Senter, and Gale, who has a lot of experience with exhaust systems, elicited the opinion that submerging the main exhaust by 3/4 would have little, if any, impact on exhaust back pressure on a system the size of Duet’s. So, armed with this information, we ordered a fuel bladder from ATL, whose fuel bladders have been deployed on several Nordhavns, not to mention Formula One racing cars, airplanes, etc.

Duet’s main exhaust system at the injection elbow, which has a 6 inch in internal diameter

The fuel bladder arrives. It looks very big in our living room and we only hope we got Duet’s cockpit measurements right

When you spend several boat units on a fuel bladder, you get free sunglasses

Ron then started thinking about how to empty the bladder. Since we plan to use it more than once, we wanted a safe and easy way to empty the 300 gallons into Duet’s integral tanks. Similar to N52 Dirona, Ron added a fuel bladder manifold. This allows us to pump the bladder empty, via a dedicated hose and valve, using the fuel transfer pump. The only problem with this is the fuel transfer pump is lamentably slow, moving, even with the additional gravity feed pressure of the bladder (which sits above the pump) only 40 gallons per hour. So it takes almost 8 hours to empty the bladder. That said, it’s a lot easier than pumping it over the stern into the tank fills.

Once the system was designed, Ron ordered the parts and began assembling it over the summer in his home shop. He has a lot of experience working with fuel systems on our 46, so this was a pretty easy project, although time consuming. The bladder arrived in due time and was carted to San Diego. We filled it there and tested it, with the Maretron system running, on our trip south from San Diego to La Paz, Mexico. The conditions running south along the Baja Peninsula coast are similar to the Marquesas run, in that we had following winds and seas.

Assembling the fuel bladder drain bib at home

Here’s the bib installed on the inboard side of the cockpit sink enclosure

Here’s what it looks like behind it

Ron installing the bib and it’s attendant hose which descends through the floor to the transfer manifold in the laz.

Hose coming up from manifold

New fuel bladder transfer manifold

When we fueled Duet in San Diego before departing for La Paz, we fit 1,440 gallons in her integral tanks, plus 300 into the fuel bladder. That gave us a total fuel on board of 1,740 gallons. Based on the Maretron information we gathered on the way south, she can deliver, with a full fuel and water load and some following wind, current and sea, 2.5-3 NMPG, at 6-7 knots, running at 1100-1200RPM. In some cases she was going faster than that, even with the squat introduced by the extra weight in the stern. Our best measure of how far the stern sank when the additional 2,400 pounds was added, was about 3.5 inches, so Ron’s calculations were pretty close. As far as we can tell, there was no impact on exhaust back pressure. The main engine ran completely normally.

Ron is shown below filling the bladder. The red line goes to the crane, which gradually raises the fill nozzle as the tank fills. Nancy is running the crane

Full fuel bladder

Chafe protecting the bladder tie downs

The fuel transfer hose is show below

2.5NMPG with 1,740 gallons aboard gives Duet a 4,350 mile range without reserve or generator usage. Ron does his calculations with a 20% reserve and, for the Marquesas trip, we expect the generator to run 3-4 hours per day to make water, etc. Our 12KW generator burns about .75 gallons per hour, so it will burn about 3 gallons per day. The journey is expected to last about 18 days, but we rounded up to 20 days, to make the math easier. So, with a reserve of 20% of 1,740 or 350 gallons, plus 60 gallons for generator usage, we would have 1,330 gallons left to burn in the main engine. At 2.5NMPG that gives Duet a range of 3,325 miles. The trip from Barra to the Marquesas is approximately 2,700 miles, so Ron was comfortable that we had the range.

On our trip south from Ensenada to Puerto Los Cabos we traveled with N50 Worknot, so we were able to compare performance. Obviously Duet was heavier than Worknot because of the full fuel bladder. She is also heavier because she has a flybridge and Worknot doesn’t. Finally, Duet has larger stabilizer fins, and we run them on an “Adaptive” setting, which means they are working hard to keep us level. That creates more drag than Worknot, which has smaller fins and runs them on the minimum setting required to keep Admiral Mary mostly happy. So Worknot was faster at slower RPM, although we aren’t sure that either of our RPM gauges are accurate.

Maretron monitor running at night off the coast of Mexico

Ron trading performance numbers with Gale 


We also traveled with the Nordhavn 47 Sloboda, with her crew Mike, Nicole and Captain Dexter. They had moved aboard recently and this was their first journey as new live aboards. We remember those times on the 46 like they were yesterday.


Diner with Mike and Nicole in Ensenda

The boat handled the additional weight aft without stress during 600 miles of running down the coast. The roughest conditions occurred at night, naturally, when we had 8-12 foot following seas on a relatively short period, with following winds gusting in the high 20s. We may see worse conditions on the first 600 miles of the Marquesas journey while the bladder is still full, but we are comfortable that Duet will manage safely.

As part of all this exhaust review, Ron also focused on what Bob Senter calls Duet’s “toasty” muffler. The muffler runs hotter than it should. Ron tested various theories, which included removing the thru hull strainer, to see if that was constricting water flow. Unfortunately, this had no impact on the temperature. He also disassembled the big dual Groco strainer and evaluated it’s hosing to the thru hull, as well as the thru hull itself. All the connections and hoses are patent. During this process, he did find a chafe point on the hydraulic steering line behind the Groco, so that was a good save.

The only action he took which somewhat reduced the temperature was to rebuild the raw water pump. Since that helped, he will also rebuild the spare. The new expensive silicon hose he installed between the injection elbow and the muffler came in very handy during the muffler evaluation project, as it was removed and replaced several times. The silicon hose is far more flexible and therefore easier to install and remove, compared to the old wire-reinforced black hose.

Overall, Ron concluded that this is really a design problem, namely the run from the injection elbow to the muffler is too short. We don’t, however, see how that could have been avoided, given the height of the engine room. Vetus does make a circulation booster which fits into the muffler and agitates the water to cool it as it enters the muffler. This may improve things further, but Ron didn’t want to make that significant a change prior to a long trip.

Fortunately, the muffler runs relatively cool at the low RPMs we will be employing during the long crossing. Also, we are satisfied that the operating temps don’t pose a fire or catastrophic failure risk. Further assessment of causes and solutions has been tabled until we reach New Zealand.

During this trip south, our wing engine’s brand new transmission started to leak oil copiously. This was not good news. First, it was new, installed just last year, so it was annoying. Second, we need it as a back up. This moved up Ron’s list for when we arrived in La Paz. After some thought and examination, he decided that this transmission, like the main transmission, needed aligning. Using the skills that Gale had so generously taught him, he sorted it out in less than a day.

We have now taken the boat out and run the wing several times. The transmission remains dry. Ron’s theory is that the new engine mounts settled, thereby forcing the transmission out of alignment and putting pressure on the transmission output shaft seals. The seals then leaked. He also, in all honesty, isn’t certain how well it was aligned when it was installed. Suffice it to say, in the future we are going to be closely focused on alignment whenever transmissions are worked on. We are also carrying spare shaft seals and assorted parts just in case. So far the ones on it don’t appear damaged by being so out of alignment, but spares can’t hurt.

While Ron was doing all this mechanical work, Nancy was chugging along on her lists. Much of it is familiar from previous blogs, namely decide what we need in the way of food, hair shampoo, etc., buy it, transport it to the boat and find somewhere to put it. For this trip, however, the quantities were significantly greater than we have tried to fit before, so creativity was required.

Provisioning begins

While this may seem like an excess of jam, we eat sugar free jam and have found it hard to locate in the past. We can get it here in Mexico, so we have replenished our supply

Stowing the jam. We bought an huge roll of bubble wrap, which came in very handy


How many cous cous boxes fit in a jar? The key is to write what the flavoring is on the paper packet before it becomes separated from it’s box.

Nancy does try to keep like with like, especially with food items. She did manage to keep all the foodstuffs in the galley or salon. Beyond that, however, we are mixing oil with paper goods under berths and storing things we won’t need for a long time, like Alaskan cruising guides, in rather remote places. Ron also spent time on storing parts that he needs. Occasionally, there were differences of opinion over who found what new storage space first, but these were resolved by the storage committee.

Paper goods in the forward head

Storing oil on top of the port saddle fuel tank

Spares under the salon sofa. The heavy gear, like the spare main water pump, are bolted to the floor

After all the usual spaces were full, we started under the berths

Under the master berth

Working in the big dinghy

New courtesy flags. These flags aren’t cheap, so we didn’t get all of them for the South Pacific. We did get a few we weren’t sure we would need on this first trip, like Fiji, just in case

As part of this journey, we had to update all our charts. Nancy worked through the basics, e.g. what was available and she and Ron worked together on what we would use. Nancy then loaded most of it, while Ron did the tricky bits.

Our primary navigation system is Coastal Explorer. We run C-Maps on that, as well as whatever local charts we can get. For our initial journey in French Polynesia, we loaded the C-Maps mega wide chart version for the area, as well as the Navionics charts on Nancy’s iPad. Ron also learned a new trick, namely how to download Google Earth geo referenced satellite photos, and load them into Coastal Explorer. We are grateful to Ted and Mary Woods on the Nordhavn 47 Sea Star, who explained how to do this, as it is not as simple as it sounds. We tested a few of these in Mexico and they work very well.

Part of Nancy’s job this summer will be to sort out the charts we need for the rest of the trip. Figuring out where we are going will make this task eaesier. Right now we aren’t certain of our course from French Polynesia to Tonga, there are a number of choices.

Nancy also focused on our communications gear. We have, to date, carried only one satellite communication device, an Iridium GO!. It has worked very well throughout our travels. But, what if it were to fail? We must be able to get weather, talk to the weather router and, heaven forbid, communicate with potential rescuers. So we bought an Iridium hand held phone as a backup. It runs on the same network as the GO!, so we have to accept that single point of failure, as no other satellite communications system will work where we are going.

Redundant hardware is only one part of this strategy. We also have redundant software and access providers. We primarily use Xgate email software, from Global Marine Networks. They provide the airtime for the GO!. The airtime for the new phone is delivered by BlueCosmo. So, hopefully, one of those providers will remain functional during our journey.

We have also recently added the free Iridium email software to our iPads, as a backup email system. We have installed PredictWind, a weather predicting software, which we have been quite pleased with, on both laptops, along with Xgate.

Sean is bringing a DeLorme, which runs on the Iridium system, and can text, provide a track of where we are, and send an emergency signal. Ron will be communicating on the high frequency SSB radio to the “nets” of boats traveling, which are active during the Pacific crossing. He may also talk to Christi on Varnebank, who is a Ham radio operator. Christi has a DeLorme which can text Sean via his DeLorme and us, via our GO!. We will be working with OMNI Bob as our weather router for the trip, as will our companion vessel, Daybreak. We will also be talking to Daybreak daily on the sat phone. 

Ron has completed some small projects during the South Pacific upgrade process. They include installing a Murphy gauge on the main engine coolant tank, which will warn us in the event of a coolant leak, putting in laz lid hold downs (copied from N50 Worknot) to reduce the chances of leakage into the laz if we ship seas into the cockpit, installing 6 fans in various places around the boat, reinforcing the big dinghy tie downs and padeyes, replacing the steel fasteners on the tiller arm linkages with Grade 8 steel bolts, making a new tie down for the anchor etc.

The Murphy gauge is shown here being installed. The gauge is the round item in the center just below the stained steel grab rail. It has a nice bright red casing. 

Reinforced padeye

Making a new tie down for the anchor

Evaluting the steering system connectors. Ycan see the copper hydraulic oil lines as well as the distribution manifolds (gold block at top of picture) and the fittings at the end of the high pressure hoses (silver cannisters at bottom).

Replacing the tiller arm bolts. The red marks are called witness marks. They let Ron tell at a glance whether bolts have worked loose. Ron uses the same system on the main engine mount bolts. 

He’s also done another wing engine job, which started as a simple maintenance project, namely clean the raw water heat exchanger. We did know, however, that this might be a bit of a swamp, as Gale had done the same thing on Worknot and ended up having to replace the entire exhaust manifold. As expected, the exchanger was in poor condition and corroded to the manifold.

Heat exchanger prior to cleaning

Fortunately, we lready knew that Gale, when confronted with this situation, had spent several days soaking said manifold in various potions and attacking it with larger and larger tools. Then, when he finally managed to extract the exchanger, in pieces, he found that the manifold was corroded beyond repair. We skipped all that and tried to order a new one. Unfortunately, Hatton Marine was unable to come to our rescue immediately, as they have been having trouble getting parts into Mexico. Not only that, but the part had to come from Japan, which delayed it beyond any reasonable timeframe for us.

So Ron, channeling MacGiver, patched the cracks in the end of the heat exchanger with JB Weld, cleaned up the end caps as best he could and then siliconed them back on. So far this repair has worked perfectly, there is no coolant leakage.

Sean even came to visit for a few days. It was his idea to make the trip and it was a good one. We went cruising near CostaBaja to help him start getting familiar with Duet’s basic functions. He also got to spend some time with Ken and Christi on Varnebank. This included a memorable evening where they hosted Duet’s crew for appetizers in the South Pacific style, with burning torches, Polynesian music, pineapple daiquiris and Christi doing a special dance on the boat deck. Unfortunately, we don’t have pictures of this particular event, but, take it from us, it was quite something.

Fuel management system lessons

Discussing the weather

Working on the big dink engine, which was not behaving at all on this trip. You can also see our new “micro” tender, which Sean is sitting in. It transported the 3 of us around the anchorage, no problem.

Fetching the big dink back. After refusing to start, it ran away

We also talked a lot about the trip. So we start here…

Where are we going again?

Lots of islands

So if we’re going there….Ron and Sean discuss the use of plotting sheets during the journey. We will be keeping a paper plot of our position, in case of an electronics failure

Learning to drive

Sorting out our fishing gear

Testing the dive gear

Fitting his survival suit

R&R on Varnebank


 A little light reading

So you take the DeLorme…

The history of Varnebank

Sean and his family

Soon enough it was time to untie from CostaBaja and start moving south to meet Daybreak in Puerto Vallarta. Frankly, it was hard to say goodbye to La Paz. It’s a beautiful friendly city, with great food and fantastic cruising less than 3 hours away. We shall return. Our travels from La Paz south will be covered in our next blog.



1 thought on “Preparing To Cross The South Pacific”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *